Interview with Alice Didier
Oral History Item Type Metadata
Robert Franklin: My name is Robert Franklin. I am conducting an oral history interview with Alice Didier on July 12th, 2016. The interview is being conducted on the campus of Washington State University Tri-Cities. I will be talking with Alice Didier about her experiences working at the Hanford site and homesteading outside of—Connell?
Alice Didier: Eltopia.
Didier: Eltopia, yeah.
Franklin: Eltopia, okay. So why don’t we start at the beginning. Where were you born?
Didier: I was born in Portland, Oregon.
Franklin: Oh, okay.
Didier: I was a city girl. Met my husband, who was born in Condon, Oregon, and he came from wheat farming country. However, his dad was not a farmer; he ran a machine shop in Condon. However, Don worked on many of the farms up there in Condon. We were married in 1951, and Don was in the service. He was in the Air Force. So after he was discharged, we came home to Condon. Our dream was to have something of our own—a farm, or—you know—mainly a farm. But the ground in that area was way too expensive for us to ever dream of owning anything. So we had the—we decided to make a trip to Canada. We went all the way to Prince George looking for land to buy, because they were encouraging American citizens to come up there and settle. Well, after that trip—before that trip, Don got an inquiry, or got a letter from the—I don’t really—it was the Bureau of Reclamation? I don’t know. It was if you were a veteran, you were entitled to throw your name in the hat, and if your name was drawn, you might have an opportunity to draw some land up here in the Columbia Basin. On a whim, he filled that out and mailed it before we left. And we were very glad we did because Prince George was a pole thicket up there. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: It was a what?
Didier: A pole thicket.
Franklin: A pole thicket.
Didier: My goodness gracious, if you had to clear that land it’d take you forever and a day. Plus—what is—peat? It had a peat—you couldn’t burn it, because you’d burn off everything that was worth—of value to farm. So you had to clear everything by hand.
Franklin: Oh, wow.
Didier: So, anyway. Very glad that when we got back, he had sent this in, and he was informed to come for an interview in Connell by a board of people that would determine if we were qualified. You were supposed to have assets, I think, of $1,500. I don’t remember what the qualifications were. But we did not have—we did not meet the qualifications. But we decided that we’d bluff it through. [LAUGHTER] So we came up in the fall of 1953. To Connell. I was eight-and-a-half months pregnant with my daughter. First thing I did was look up the name of the doctor in the phone book in Connell, because I thought I might not make it back to Condon before she appeared on the scene. But anyway, didn’t work out that way. But they took Don out in a Jeep, and bounced over hill and dale, and showed him the land that they had laid out that was available for drawing at that time. Not everything was available at the same time. So he picked out our farm unit. I had never—I didn’t get to see the land. I didn’t have any part of that, because I didn’t want to chance taking a trip in the Jeep in my condition. February of ’54, his dad and Don loaded up—we bought this Army tent, and he loaded up everything we owned in the way of furniture and moved up to our unit. It was nothing but rock, sagebrush, rattlesnakes—[LAUGHTER]—and, yeah, sagebrush, I said sagebrush. A lot of sagebrush. All of that had to be cut and burnt—cleared, in other words, in order to farm anything in the area that we picked out. Some land around there had been farmed—wheat farmers had tried their hand at raising wheat in that area, small areas. But not enough rainfall. And there were sheep camps in there. They had been running sheep, some of them. When Don brought me up, he pulled up on this—we had to come in from Eltopia; there were no roads built. So we had to come over hill and dale to get out to our farm unit. And he pulled up, and he said, this is it. And I said, this is it? I mean—[LAUGHTER] there was nothing there, period. It was sort of a shock.
Franklin: And you hadn’t seen it before this?
Didier: I had not seen it before then.
Franklin: It had been purchased sight unseen by you?
Didier: Yes, yes. And he and his dad had preceded my coming up there to drop our stuff off and build a wooden floor and side—what would you call it? Sidewalls. Sidewalls for the tent. So they had it pretty well constructed. Anyway, that was the beginning. [LAUGHTER] Don had borrowed from a farmer in Condon a small little D4 Cat, I think it was. We hauled that up here. And he and his dad had built a scraper, a small scraper, to put behind it. So Don started developing a piece of land behind where we had pitched this tent. My daughter was three months old when we moved up here. Let’s see—October, November, December—four months old, I guess. And my son was about a year-and-a-half, or less than two. So we took up residence in our tent. [LAUGHTER] And when we finally got our power, we had a refrigerator. Like I said, I had a Sud Saver washing machine that you could dump the water. We had two tubs out front—laundry tubs, like there used—women used to have in their house. So I’d save the wash water, and I’d save the rinse water, because we were hauling every drop of water. It was pretty precious. You reuse it a couple of times. Maybe not the most sanitary, but that was the—[LAUGHTER] That’s what we had to do.
Franklin: How long did it take from when you moved in to when you got power?
Didier: I’d say two weeks at the most.
Didier: Big Bend came in and dropped power in. But we still had no roads. We had a little ’51 Oldsmobile and we had a water trailer, and we had to go into Eltopia to the railroad—there was a railroad well. And we’d fill there. It took a half a tank of gas to get down to the well and back with a tank of water. Yeah. And we had no neighbors. There were no neighbors. It was just Don and I out there. Over the hill was a couple. She was an English war bride. And they had settled in there before we did. And then we had another couple to the south of us. But we were the only people in that whole area. It was pretty dark at night, I’m going to tell you. There were no lights. There was nothing. It was black.
Franklin: Wow. So how fast did the land clearing go?
Didier: Not very fast.
Franklin: Not very fast?
Didier: Because we didn’t have any money. We used a big Noble blade and cut the sagebrush. Then we’d have to go out and pile it by hand in big stacks and burn it. Don managed to level off, I think—well, I don’t know, what was it? 14, 15 acres was the first—because in those days, there were no circles. It was all either you had hand line—irrigation hand line, or you had to level the ground to a grade that you could put in a ditch and use siphon tubes—rill irrigation, they called it. And Don didn’t want anything to do with the hand lines. So he was leveling it for rill irrigation.
Franklin: And so you used real irrigation?
Didier: We did.
Franklin: And how do you spell that?
Franklin: R-I-L-L. We did a previous oral history where someone mentioned that and we didn’t—
Didier: Know how to spell—
Franklin: No one at the Project had heard of that and we weren’t sure how to spell it.
Franklin: So it’s R-I-L-L—
Franklin: --irrigation. Thank you so much. Can go back and fix some transcripts.
Franklin: So it’s—just will you explain that again? That’s when you lay down—where you grade—
Didier; You have to grade the land so that the water will flow from the top to the bottom.
Didier: You know, enough of a grade so that the water will flow down the—well, you put ditches from the head ditch up here that carries the main body of water. You would back up to that with ditch shovels and make ditches every so far through your crop. That’s where you would set the siphon tube and the water would go from the top to the bottom. When it reached the bottom, then you’d pick them up and move on down. You could only set so many at one time, depending on how much of a head of a water you had—or how many feet you had coming down the ditch.
Franklin: So that’s a much more labor-intensive type of irrigation. I imagine, probably an older type of irrigation, as well.
Didier: Right, but not maybe as labor-intensive as packing that hand line. That’s work. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: And what would the tubes be constructed out of usually?
Franklin: Aluminum tubes, okay.
Didier: And there’s a picture, I think, in that magazine I gave you from International Harvester, showing me priming one of those tubes.
Franklin: Oh, okay, great. Wow, that’s great.
Didier: You had to learn how to do that. You had to learn how to give it a deal like this and flip it over quick so you didn’t lose your prime. [LAUGHTER]
Didier: A lot of people didn’t know how to do it in the beginning and they’d suck on it, if you can believe that, to get the water running. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: Kind of like siphoning gas?
Didier: Yeah, only—the water was much cleaner than later on. I mean, after more—we actually, on this end of the Basin, reuse the water that comes in up north. So a lot of it’s recovered—what is that lake up there that—there’s a lake—I can’t remember the name of it right now. So, that was our first—and our first venture was to plant some hay. There was nobody to buy what you raised. We had no markets then. So I remember the hay that we baled—we finally got it baled and it sat out there until the hay grew up over it, because there was no sense picking it up; we didn’t have anybody to sell it to. [LAUGHTER] So it wasn’t a very productive, I guess, in the beginning, as far as producing money. So I went to work at Camp Hanford.
Franklin: Do you remember what year that—
Didier: No. Well, it’d be—okay, ’54 we moved up here. It was probably during ’54. Because we had to eat.
Franklin: Right, you needed some cash coming in.
Franklin: Hay wasn’t going to cut it.
Franklin: So what did you do at Hanford?
Didier: I was a secretary. I was interviewing people for jobs out there.
Franklin: All kinds of jobs, or--?
Didier: You know, that—I didn’t work there a whole long time. That was a long trip for me, clear from Eltopia.
Franklin: I imagine.
Didier: I had to drive that every day. I don’t remember. Not all kinds of jobs, I’m sure, because I’m not versed in scientific things, you know. I’m not sure it was Camp Hanford, so I don’t know what did Camp Hanford do? They were—it was long before all this Project stuff started out here in—I think it was—wasn’t that a military type of camp? Camp Hanford?
Franklin: There’s a few different things that are referred to as Camp Hanford. There’s the actual Camp Hanford, as it’s oftentimes noted as the camp where the construction crews lived. Then there was—there were a couple—there was a military camp--
Didier: I think that was it.
Franklin: --called Camp Hanford as well, where they—when they had the military stationed there for—
Didier: But I wasn’t interviewing for military; it had to be civilian people they were hiring or stuff. I wasn’t military. Because I was not in the military and whatever.
Franklin: Right. So you said you were a secretary, but then you said—didn’t you do something with the whole body counter?
Didier: That was for GE.
Franklin: For GE, okay. So in the beginning you worked at Camp Hanford, secretary/interviewer.
Didier: And then I went to Bureau of Reclamation in Eltopia. They had a construction office there.
Didier: So I went down and applied for a job there, and I was so happy when I got a job, because I didn’t have to go very far to go to work. They were still completing canals and doing work. So I worked down there for a while. And then I decided, I guess, that I guess that I needed more money—or that we needed more money. So I went out—I applied to go to work at GE. And the first job I had was for Roy Lucas in tech shops. That was 300 Area. All my jobs that I held during that time that I worked out there were all for GE. It was just as GE was phasing out. And I forget who the next contractor was that came in, but GE—yeah. I left just as GE was—they were changing over.
Franklin: And you said you worked for Roy Lewis at—
Didier: No, Roy Lucas.
Franklin: Roy Lucas.
Didier: Lucas, L-U-C-A-S.
Franklin: At the tech shops?
Didier: Tech shops. He ran—it was like machining.
Didier: They did machining. They had these tech shops—T-E-C-H—tech shops. And then I went to work for—well, there was a little incident between there. I got pregnant again. So I had to take a leave of absence, and my youngest son was born in 1960. So I think three months after he was born, I had taken a leave of absence, I came back, and I got a job at the Whole Body Counter—I think that was next—with Frank Swanberg, where they did all the testing on people that were working out there with their dosimeters or whatever they were wearing. They did a lot of testing on people that had worked out there for their levels of radiation exposure. Then I got a job—I got a promotion and went out to 300 Area again, and I went to work for Ward Spear. I don’t remember the name of that. They were all scientific people there. The papers I typed up were horrendous, with all their equations in them. [LAUGHTER] Then I worked for the boss of that whole group and he eventually became the CEO of Battelle, Ron Paul.
Franklin: Oh, okay.
Didier: You know Ron Paul, or have you heard of him?
Franklin: I’ve heard the name, yeah.
Didier: Yeah, he was—I can understand why he was promoted to what he was. He was one of the best bosses I ever worked for, let’s put it that way.
Franklin: And why was that?
Didier: Very well organized. Never, ever last minute, I got to have this like ten minutes ago. No. He was always—I don’t know—just was a very personable man. Yeah, I really liked him. And then I got another promotion and I went to work for Art Keene in radiation monitoring.
Franklin: So kind of back to radiation monitoring.
Didier: Yeah. And he was head of the whole group that supervised the Whole Body Counter and whatever work—you know, all the people that were doing the monitoring out there. And that’s when I decided that I’d better call it a day. I had five children, and I was driving—I was spending ten to ten-and-a-half hours a day—well, ten hours, I guess it was—for eight hours of work out here. I mean, it took me—we still were not financially doing that well, so I hopped car pools. I had three car pools by the time I got to work at 300 Area. I had to switch and pass go. [LAUGHTER] And then had one more switch, I think. I can’t remember, but anyway.
Franklin: So then you moved back to the farm.
Didier: I went back to the farm, and that’s when things started to pick up, and our markets were better, and you had more choices of what to raise.
Franklin: Do you know what year that would have been?
Didier: Well, Brett was born in 1960—oh, gosh. I think he was two, something? Probably 1962 or ’63.
Franklin: And so you said things had kind of improved, at least market-wise by that time?
Didier: Right, well there were more variety of crops to raise.
Franklin: So what were you—so you started with hay, so what were you expanding out into?
Didier: Well, we raised—in the beginning—well, we tried beans. We tried beans, we tried—I can just give you a repertoire of everything we raised. We didn’t do all that at one time. We raised sweet corn, we raised sugar beets, we raised potatoes. We were into potato growing—my husband loved to raise potatoes. Let’s see, sugar beets. Asparagus. We had 80 acres of asparagus once. So, we—can’t think of anything else. Wheat. We’ve had wheat off and on. I can’t think—and hay. Mainly, here in the last years, we’ve been mainly hay farmers.
Didier: Because potatoes were always a big gamble. And we had a very bad year one year and almost had to go into bankruptcy.
Franklin: Is that because of weather or—
Didier: Because of circumstances. We had two circles of potatoes, and they had out this chemical that they claimed if you sprayed it at a certain time, that it would set your potatoes so they didn’t put on any more small ones—undersized, which paid you nothing. That you’d get bigger growth on the potatoes that were already set underneath the vine. It was MH-30, was what it was. So we tried that, and they sprayed it on on the hottest day of the year, I think. It was very hot that day. In two days, our potatoes were dead. Yeah.
Franklin: So you literally could watch them perish.
Didier: Yeah. Our field man came and he said, Don, the potato vines are dying.
Didier: Because it was a salt solution, and they had no warning on their label that you should not spray over a certain temperature. And other people had used it and came out fine. But not us.
Didier: But what was there we harvested. It was pretty sad. And then that was the year we got a rainstorm. We had wheat and we had a really hard rain. Then next day was like a pressure cooker. And all that wheat sprouted in the head. So it was feed wheat. It was not marketable.
Didier: Just—you know, one of those years. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: Yeah. Where nature seems to be throwing everything at you.
Franklin: Yeah. I grew up on a farm.
Didier: This year seems to be that way, too. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: I grew up on a farm as well. My mom still farms.
Didier: Then you know what I’m talking about.
Franklin: Yeah, I’ve heard lots of stories.
Didier: When things start going wrong they just sort of escalate, you know? But potatoes, you had—at that time, you had $1,000 an acre into potatoes before you ever put a harvester in the field.
Didier: Yeah. So—
Franklin: I guess that explains the switch to hay. So you said that you had done—the people—I’ve read that the people in that Bend area had tried wheat in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and kind of gave up. But you guys also tried wheat. Did you try that with irrigation or did you try to—
Didier: Oh yeah. We had nothing dryland. Everything was irrigated, everything we farmed.
Franklin: And how did the wheat do, besides that one awful year with the pressure cooker?
Didier: Well, you’d better expect over 100 bushel of wheat or—you know, I’m not as up on yields now as I was then, because my son farms our operation since my husband died. I always kid him I’m on a need-to-know basis. [LAUGHTER] I have to ask questions if I want to know—[LAUGHTER]—if I really want to know the nitty gritty about things, and then sometimes he gets sort of upset with me. So I’m saying 120 bushel—120 bushel is not unheard of, and over. Depending on the variety of wheat, you know. The year, the weather, everything.
Franklin: So you said that right now you’ve pretty much just reverted to planting hay now—growing hay.
Didier: Until this past two years. And the hay farmer’s in a world of hurt out there now after that port slowed down over in Tacoma. Sort of ruined the foreign markets. And then, too, our dollar’s been so strong, those people that depended on—I guess that were our markets, they went elsewhere when they weren’t getting their shipments. So you have to work to get those people back buying again. And there is hay stocked all over the basin. We’ve got hay from two years ago we haven’t sold.
Didier: And this year we have had rain, rain, rain on about every cutting which makes it feeder hay. My son had an offer the other day of $60 a ton. You got $150 into it to break even.
Didier: So you take your licks and walk on, hopefully, if you don’t get your financing cut off. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: Yeah. Did you spend a lot of time in nearby communities, in Eltopia? Were you involved in any organizations there, or social groups, or church groups or anything?
Didier: Oh, yeah. Yes. I belong to St. Paul Catholic church. We actually built that church, the people that moved in there.
Didier: Yeah. The people of that area, we built the St. Paul Catholic church at Eltopia.
Franklin: How large was Eltopia when you moved there?
Didier: Oh, the town of Eltopia?
Didier: [LAUGHTER] Ooh, not very big. There had been a bank there once. There’d been—well, when we first moved in there and we had no refrigeration and I had a new baby, there was a Streadwick that opened a little store there. And he carried milk and bread, thank heavens, because I could buy milk from him. Because I couldn’t keep milk without it going sour for more than a day or so at a time.
Franklin: There was a who?
Didier: A Stredwick. His name was just Stredwick. There was a Stredwick family that owned a filling station on the old highway there. And Millie, she was a widow, but she had a pack of kids, and she was the switchboard operator in Eltopia. If you wanted to make a phone call in the beginning, you had to go to Millie’s house to make the telephone call. Because we had no phones.
Franklin: Oh, wow.
Didier: Or if you received a call, they’d have to come out and tell you that somebody was trying to get ahold of you.
Franklin: And how far away was that?
Didier: Well, about the same distance as getting the water. A little bit closer, but not much, because we had to go right into the town of Eltopia to get to her house. She lived in Eltopia.
Didier: I would say there wasn’t more than 150 people, or less, in Eltopia per se.
Franklin: Where did the children go to school?
Didier: They started in Eltopia, my two oldest. But then we—they decided school districts. You either were going to go to Pasco or you were going to go Connell. We were—the dividing line was Fir Road, which was one more road to the south. Well, no, it’s more than one for me, but Eltopia West is the main road now that comes off of 395. It’s one road over from Eltopia West—Fir Road—was the dividing line. If you lived on the left side of Fir Road, you went to North Franklin School District, which was Connell. If you lived on the other side, you went to Pasco. So we went to Connell.
Didier: Mesa—they built a grade school in Mesa, they built a grade school in Basin City. That’s all North Franklin. Then they had a grade school in Connell, then they built a junior high and a high school. So my kids all went through—finished. Some of them completely went through the North Franklin School District. The two oldest had a few years there in Eltopia. There actually was an old high school in Eltopia. But they closed it down, too. We used to have dances down there.
Franklin: Oh really?
Didier: The floors went up, and the floors went down, but we had an orchestra that did the playing. In the middle of the music they’d just stop. [LAUGHTER] We’ve laughed about that.
Franklin: Wait, why did they stop?
Didier: Just decided to stop! [LAUGHTER] And you’d be dancing away, all of the sudden the music just stopped. I don’t know. Probably had too much to drink. Everybody had to bring their own bottle, you know.
Didier: Yeah, oh, yeah.
Franklin: And who put these dances on?
Didier: Well, we sort of had a—hmm, I don’t know. Don’t remember that. Just—I don’t know—we didn’t have an association, particularly. It was just our local group around there decided, you know, like New Year’s Eve or something, is about when—it wasn’t all the time.
Franklin: Was the high school being used at that time, or was it just kind of an empty—
Didier: No, no, it was going downhill. And that’s what I said—the floors were warped because the roof had leaked.
Franklin: Oh, my. Wow.
Didier: Yeah. And so you had to watch your step. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: I bet. So were these adults-only dances?
Didier: Yes, yes, yes. Yes, it was adults only.
Franklin: That’s great. That’s really interesting.
Didier: We were involved—I had a 4-H club. Don coached Little League—yeah, Little League, down in Eltopia. We had a team, because our boys played on that. We were big boosters of Connell High School, because all our boys—Clint played—my one son played in the NFL for nine years. The other boy was the one we thought was going to be the NFL player. But he wanted to farm more than play football. He’s the one that’s farming my place now. But our boys all participated in sports up there, so we were big sports boosters. Don helped build the bleachers. The old—we used to have our games down there in the—well, it was in the town of Connell. Since then it’s all moved up by the high school. But he helped build the bleachers into the side of the hill. He had a trophy case built for them. And then the boys went to CBC, both Clint and Curt. And we donated there, the foundation or whatever it is. Still do—Clint still supports that.
Franklin: Did you or your husband go to college?
Didier: Don did for a year. He was going to be an engineer. I went to college at night school for a while, but I never got a degree, no. I came out of a high school in Portland that you learned bookkeeping, shorthand, and so when you graduated, you also had a degree—you had English and a language and everything else—but you could go out and get a job.
Franklin: Oh, okay. Yeah.
Didier: And then they had Benson at that time for the boys where they learned how to—you know, like shop and things like that. And then they did away with that; we don’t have those kind of things anymore. Big mistake. I think we should still have those type of—because some kids are just not college material.
Didier: To be able to go out and work and do something when you come out of high school. Because kids nowadays, they need work.
Franklin: Right. To have a trade or at least to have—maybe have post-high school schools that are geared for trade instead of—
Didier: Yeah, instead of—because when you come out of high school now, what do you have? You don’t have a trade of any kind, or a skill of any kind. Except supposedly your brain, and then you got to go on to another four-year school, and you’re still—if you want to really amount to anything, that isn’t adequate now either. And then we wonder why we have such high debt for these kids that are—[LAUGHTER]—you know, trying to get a college education or get a trade or whatever.
Franklin: Yeah. Oh! How did you meet your husband?
Didier: Uh-oh. [LAUGHTER] Do I have to tell you the true story? [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: Well if it’s racy or saucy, then yes.
Franklin: For the good of history.
Didier: Okay, well--
Franklin: I’m just kidding. Whatever you’re comfortable with.
Didier: Well, every year in Portland at the beginning of the football season, they would have sort of a roundabout where each high school came and played a quarter or something against another one of the other teams. I had been a cheerleader at my high school. This is since I had graduated, and I’d started to work. I went to work at 16 for the Soil Conservation Service in Portland.
Franklin: Oh, really? Okay. Wow.
Didier: So, my girlfriend and I decided that we were going to go to this celebration—the football thing—that night. So I took a bus and I got off the bus where I was to meet her. And Don and a friend were standing there on the corner. He was enrolled at the—is it University of Portland is the Catholic school down there, or Portland U? No, it’s University of Portland, yeah. Anyway, he’d just started college there. So he tried to strike up a conversation, and I—my mother told me never—[LAUGHTER]—Don’t do those kind of things. I’m just kidding. But anyway, I wouldn’t talk to him. I walked across the street to meet my friend, and we had to walk back in front of him to get back on the bus to get to where we were going. He says, why don’t you let us give you a ride? And I said, no. I said, we’ll just take the bus. So we did. We got on the bus. So they ran around, got in their car, and they followed our bus over to the stadium. Later in the game, I went down and was sitting on the bench with my friends from my high school there. And around the corner walks Don. That was the beginning of the end. He said, well, as it turned out we had a mutual acquaintance—my girlfriend did. So we went to the dance at Portland University that night with them. And that was the end of me ever dating anybody else. Next day, he called me and—[LAUGHTER] So. And it was ironic because my son, Clint, you know, played for Mouse Davis down there, and years later he played in that stadium.
Franklin: Oh, wow.
Didier: [LAUGHTER] I call that sort of ironic coincidence, that years later we came back to the place where we actually engaged in a conversation that night. Anyway. So it was a pick-up, I guess you’d say.
Franklin: Yeah. Sounds like he was pretty persistent.
Didier: Well, he wasn’t very talkative. But I was impressed. He was pretty good-looking. [LAUGHTER] I liked what I saw. So anyway.
Franklin: That’s—aww. And was he drafted, then? You said he was in the Air Force.
Didier: Yeah, he was in the reserve.
Didier: And he got—it was the Korean situation, and he got called up. So we were married just as he—right after he got called up, his commander was gracious enough to give him a couple of days off to have a honeymoon for—what did we have? Three days or something, when it was supposed to be boot camp. He happened to then be stationed at the Portland—there in Portland, for almost a year. And then he got orders to go to Nashville, Tennessee. So we up and moved. I went with him. Didn’t have any children then. We went to Tennessee for less than a year, I think, before we came back. And when we came home, we went to Condon, Oregon and Don went to work for a wheat farmer there.
Franklin: Oh, okay. So he was drafted in Korea, but didn’t—he never—
Didier: He never served overseas, no. He never had to serve overseas. He was a lineman—supposed to be his—whatever, what do they call it? His MO, or whatever? It was supposed to be—oh, I don’t know—what’s the second in command? I don’t know. Anyway, they found that he had been a telephone lineman at one time, so that’s what he ended up being, was a telephone lineman.
Franklin: Do you—when you were homesteading out there, did you have any run-ins or—well, not run-ins is the right word, but interactions with Native Americans who would have inhabited that area long before? Did you ever see, or were you ever aware of--
Didier: No, there was nothing. The only thing, we found a couple of arrowheads on our place once. No. Some old sheep camps, we found some things in that, but there was no—no, there was no indication of any—
Franklin: From earlier settlement days.
Franklin: How has farming changed over the years for you?
Didier: Oh, my gosh. Well, what are we talking here? ’54 to—is that 60-what? ’62 years?
Franklin: 60 years, yeah.
Didier: Phenomenal, I guess, would be my word. Equipment-wise. Everything now if possible is circles, for irrigation. Tractors are—how many times bigger should I say than what we started out with? My son owns a quad-trac, which—I don’t know, what are they? $280,000 or $300,000-some-odd and it’s monstrous. You have GPS now; everything is—you plant by that. I guess—I don’t really have a word to—I guess express how much it’s advanced. Planters are all—well, just like we planted some beans this year, trying to find out something else besides hay to plant. This guy just pulls into field we had with timothy hay, and you don’t have to disc, you don’t have to do anything. He just sets down, and he’s got things that open it up to plant the seeds, so you don’t have to worry about the wind problem you used to. It used to be, we had horrendous winds and dirt. You’d plant a crop, and you’d pray that you didn’t get one of those winds or it’d be gone—the seed would be gone. A lot of replanting back in the old days. We could look towards block 15 and see this wall of dirt coming at us. Yeah. One of the windstorms hit 90 miles an hour here. It blew down the drive-in screen in Pasco. It blew the side out of a block building. And we were in that tent. My husband said, load the kids up, we’re going to town. We’re not going to be here when it goes down—if it goes down, is what he said. So we loaded up the kids, drove to town, spent the whole day in town. As the day—as the sun started to set, the wind went down and we headed back out there and didn’t know if there would be anything left of everything we owned in the world because it was all in that tent. And it was still standing.
Didier: But he had a pretty hefty crossbeam—is that what you call it, the main deal at the top? But he said it put a permanent bow in it, though. That wind against that canvas. So he took that thing down and put up a four-by-six by himself. How he did that, I don’t know. But he says, not going to have that happen again.
Didier: And then we had just a few incidences of some of the things that happened out there. We had a winter that first winter when we still in the tent. My husband was doing land-leveling. He got this D7 Cat and he was out working for other people, leveling their ground. That day, it was a beautiful day, that day. When he got off the Cat, he started home, and for some reason he turned around, and he drained that Cat. Because there was no antifreeze. We didn’t have antifreeze in it. That night, it dropped to 19 below. I don’t know—we’ve never, ever had that happen again. Don stayed up all night. We had a wood stove in that tent, and we had an oil stove. He had both of them cranked up as high as they would go. The next morning, he reached over, and we had packing cases for cupboards. He reached over for the coffee pot, and when he got it, it was all slushy, after he—and it wasn’t that far away from the stove. [LAUGHTER] And sagebrush—he was burning sagebrush in the wood stove. That puts out a hot fire. So decided it was time to move. And I was working at the Bureau then, so we were entitled to one of their Quonset huts down there.
Franklin: Oh, okay.
Didier: So we picked up and moved that day. And it was wonderful not to have a roof flapping in the breeze, and it had running water, and I had wall—baseboard heaters, and they paid the bill. You could be as warm and toasty as you wanted. So I was in seventh heaven. [LAUGHTER] We lived there until—well, then I got—while I was working there, I got pregnant with Curt. And the Bureau wrote us a little letter, saying, you have not proved up on your land. You had to put in 12 months out of 18 to establish residency. And said, if you don’t move back on your unit, you’ll forfeit it. We didn’t have a house, didn’t have anything. So went to town, and started tearing down—we called them Navy homes. I don’t know. Somebody said they were Victory homes or something. They had a lot of them in Pasco, they had a lot in Kennewick. He and his dad went in there and they tore—we got enough money from the bank to tear down a section of that housing, and used all the materials out of that for our house. When we moved in, the eaves weren’t boxed in, the sub-floor was the roof, like, slats. So the dirt just settled between the slats. And we had no running water again, because we didn’t have a well. And I found a rattlesnake in my closet one day.
Franklin: Oh my.
Didier: [LAUGHTER] Came home from town, and I walked in to take off my blouse and hang it up in the closet. And I heard this noise, and I thought—out of the corner of my eye—I thought, there’s a snake. But it had curled up on top of a suitcase. We had no bathroom—we had an outhouse. Had no bathroom, and he found his way into our bedroom there, and the light—the sun was coming through the bedroom window, and he was sunning himself. He’d crawled up on this suitcase in an old army hat that Don had laying on top of the suitcase. And he was telling me, you’d better back off. I screamed, I said, there’s a rattlesnake in here! And Don says—he didn’t believe me, he thought I was having pipe dreams. He told everybody afterwards I made a new door out of the bedroom, which I did not. But anyway, he grabbed a weed fork and killed it. Believe me, we stepped out of bed gingerly for a while, thinking where you find one, you usually find two. But we could see where he’d come up through the—we had the sewer pipe laid for the bathroom that was not in. And the kids had been out there playing in the dirt with their trucks and stuff. He had a piece of tar paper thrown up against it and some dirt that he’d thrown up against it. Well, they’d knocked that down and that snake found that pipe, and he decided that was a nice cool place to be in. Yeah. We had quite a—in fact, we have a big rock bluff behind my farm unit there to the east. And the people at the Bureau called that Rattlesnake Mountain. In the spring, they’d go out there, and when they’d come out of their dens they’d kill a lot of snakes. So we encountered rattlesnakes off and on quite a bit.
Didier: We were pretty worried with our kids that they might get bitten. We actually went to town and got a kit—not the normal kind—it had a hypodermic needle or whatever. Whether I could have used it [LAUGHTER] I don’t know. We had to keep it in the refrigerator. But just in case, because we were a long ways away from a doctor.
Didier: But anyway, didn’t happen.
Franklin: That’s good.
Franklin: And now how—when, roughly, was your house built?
Didier: Well, it was built in stages. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: When did it—
Didier: Well, right as Curt was born, which was 1957. ’57.
Franklin: And is that still the same—is that house still out there?
Didier: It is. Only we’ve added on to it. You’d never know what part of it is built out of.
Didier: It’s all bricked.
Franklin: Oh, wow.
Didier: Yeah. I have a fairly nice home. It’s nothing luxurious or anything, but it’s very comfortable.
Franklin: And you have roads out there now?
Didier: Oh, yeah. [LAUGHTER] Yeah, we’d better have. But that was something, when you didn’t have any roads, I’ll tell you. They were putting them in, but they were just the bases. I remember one day, our neighbors across—that turned out to be our neighbors across the road on Holly Drive—we saw this truck with all of their stuff loaded on it pull in over there. We thought, wow, are we getting a neighbor here? But they pulled in and dropped off a bunch of stuff and then took off again. So we jumped in our car and we followed them to find out who they were, and were they going to be our neighbors, and whatever. Because we were excited that we had another human being that was going to be that close to us. That was Johnsons. Were our neighbors for years and years. They both since have passed away. Don and I were probably eight to ten years younger than the majority of the people that settled out there, because they were World War II veterans, many of them. So we’re losing them one by one.
Didier: Yeah, most of them are—well, just lost one down the road here. He was 93, I guess. Year before last. He was a bomber pilot in World War II. Flew 70-some-odd missions, and made it through.
Franklin: That’s really incredible odds.
Didier: Yeah. Yeah, it is. I did his eulogy at the church, and—those guys really—anyway, yeah.
Franklin: So working out at Hanford, you would have been privy to—you would have known what was produced there. Did you ever feel—how did you feel about making your living off the land so close to Hanford?
Didier: I never worried about it. Some people tried to prove, or think that they got thyroid cancer, whatever. But I—working in the monitoring, I knew they were monitoring the milk. They monitored milk, anybody that was dairying out there. Plus, they had instrumentation across the river. They were monitoring the river itself. However, you never knew what the figures were. I mean, I—yeah. But I really never worried about it. But maybe out of ignorance, in a sense. Not really, it’s not like, I guess, Chernobyl or something, where you had—although you had reactors out there. But a lot of them were not even active at that time, even. But there were a few, wasn’t there the—was it Fast Flux? I don’t know. I worked on that project, trying to save that Fast Flux Facility.
Franklin: Really? So in the ‘80s, then?
Didier: Yeah. Who was the commissioner? Yeah, I got involved in that. That was a travesty that they ever destroyed that, simply for the fact that medical isotopes—they had no idea what they could have engineered from that reactor that would have helped in the medical field. The dream was the guys that knew—he since has died, too. He moved to Portland. That if you had cancer, you’d go in, and you’d sit down, and they’d do, I guess, an injection. Sort of, probably, like chemo now, but in 15 minutes you’d be out of there. The possibility was there to make medical isotopes. If you know what medical isotopes are. I’m not a scientist, but because of the way the Fast Flux—it was one of a kind in the world, I think.
Franklin: Mm-hmm. How did you become involved in the committee to save it?
Didier: I don’t remember who got me into that. [LAUGHTER] I don’t remember. Claude Oliver, for one, was active in that. Wanda Munn, who is still alive, and she’s still—yeah.
Franklin: Yeah, I’ve—
Didier: I know Wanda and I talk to her quite often and she was very active in that.
Franklin: Yeah. She was very supportive.
Didier: I just went down to the office and did what I usually do, you know. Write thank-you letters for donations and filing and that kind of stuff. But I was very interested; I thought it was a very good project that our government—all the money that had been expended thrown down the toilet, to put it bluntly. I see in the paper they’re going to use one of the warehouses they built, though, to store the sludge or something. Did you see that?
Franklin: I didn’t. I do know that our collection that we manage—the Department of Energy’s Hanford Collection, which is a historic collection of artifacts and archives gathered onsite that document history, and that’s actually stored in one of the Fast Flux Facility warehouses.
Didier: Is it?
Franklin: Yeah. We’re moving everything out, but I go up there once or twice a week to do work on the collection, yes. It’s one of those warehouses that was built for Fast Flux.
Franklin: I hadn’t read about storage of waste.
Didier: Yeah, sludge or something. So they can—I don’t know—something about the tanks, they can put it in there? Something that had been built for the Fast Flux reactor. So at least maybe something’s being—[LAUGHTER]—what should I say? Salvaged. But anyway.
Franklin:Um, what do you recall about living in the Cold War—during the Cold War era? Especially—was there any sense of danger or even pride living so close at Hanford or working at Hanford, given its role in the US nuclear weapons arsenal during the Cold War?
Didier: Well, all that was sort of over with when I was out there. No, it was a job, and it was money. [LAUGHTER] Better money than I could make anywhere else. And the people were great to work with, and they were always interested in what we were doing out there. You know, you would have thought being of the scientific community and whatever—completely different ideas than being a farmer. But you know what? It’s interesting—there’s always a bit of farmer in everybody. Have you ever realized that? I mean, guys particularly.
Franklin: Well, I grew up on a farm.
Didier: I know that’s what you said, but it seems like no matter what they’re line of work is or whatever, there’s always this curiosity about farming and what to do and whatever. I used to have a lot of questions. They always treated me very well. I really hated to quit out there. Because I enjoyed the people. I enjoyed getting away from the farm, and the worries and the whatever. I could go to work and have a different scenario for the day, you know?
Franklin: Right, right. So when you were out there, you—all of the children were with your husband?
Didier: No, I hired a babysitter. She had to come to the house, because I couldn’t get five kids up—I had to leave at like seven in the morning, something, to be to work. We started earlier than 8:00. What was it? I don’t know what time I had to leave, but she had to come to the house and get the kids dressed and whatever.
Franklin: Was that a—
Didier: Don was not a babysitter. [LAUGHTER] He had better things to do, you know. No, I had to hire someone to come in. And sometimes you wondered if—that’s when I finally decided that I needed to quit and come home, because there’s a fine line there about whether you’re really—how much are you contributing here, when you have to pay someone to look after your children, cost of getting to work, better clothing—had to dress better—you know, all these things you got to factor in. It was better when I did come home, because my husband—he liked conversation and people. So he sometimes got sidetracked at the neighbors’ and stuff when I thought he should have been home doing some things. So when I finally came home for good, it was better. Things improved. [LAUGHTER] In my eyes, anyway.
Didier: Well, it was lonely out there if you were—he just liked, as all farmers do, they like to talk a lot. They still get together. We’ve had some restaurants up there at the corner, and that was the gathering place every morning, the coffee shop and all the BSing that goes on. They’ve come and gone. So now we have a small Mr. Quick’s up there, and some of them still meet up there. Yeah. Got to compare notes, you know.
Franklin: Oh, yeah. Yeah.
Franklin: A lot of things to talk about, I’m sure.
Franklin: How—you mentioned, especially when you were growing some of the other crops, maybe not the hay, but like the corn and potatoes—how—did you rely on migrant labor at all? Or have you noticed--?
Didier: We did in asparagus, but they really—the families we had I don’t think were migrant. They came from California every year. We furnished housing for them. When amnesty was declared, that’s when we tore out the asparagus. The next year, it was—well, they got better jobs, they stayed in California, they didn’t come back. The people we were getting were not—well, that’s when they also made the deal that if—before, you paid by what they cut a day. I guess you’d call it piecework. They could make good money. But then they said, okay, if they don’t cut enough to equal so much an hour—and I forget what the minimum wage was or whatever it was—then you’ve got to pay them that. So you had to keep track of both things. Well, then you started getting people that would start at the top of the road, and they’d get to the bottom of the road, and then they’d sit down on their box or whatever they had down there and smoke a cigarette. They didn’t care if they made—yeah. They got paid so much no matter what. The caliber of people changed drastically. We got a crew leader or something out of Texas to bring us people, and that was not good. So we just decided to tear it out.
Franklin: That’s when you went to a more mechanized--?
Didier: Well, yeah. Just planted other crops. When we lost the sugar beet industry here, that was hard, because that was a very, very dependable cash crop. That hurt.
Franklin: What happened to the sugar beet industry?
Didier: Well, they decided to pull the factory at Moses Lake out of here. So we had no place to ship the sugar beets. I think, took acres and stuff back to Idaho. So we lost our sugar beet industry here.
Franklin: Is there anything that I haven’t talked about that you’d like to talk about?
Didier: Well, I don’t know. I don’t know what it would be, except that I think at the end of my composition in that book that I gave you there on the block, I just said I was so grateful for the opportunity that we had here. I think this probably was the last—what do I want to say—the last land that was opened up for development, like the Columbia Basin, the last project. We raised five great kids. They learned how to work. I’m proud of all of them. I just felt, being a city girl, my mother-in-law particularly didn’t think I’d ever make it, but I did. [LAUGHTER] It was a great opportunity. A lot of people didn’t stay. There were a lot of women that—it was hard.
Didier: It was hard out there. We had a couple of suicides. You’d get—yeah. I don’t know what else to tell you.
Franklin: Did your parents stay in Portland?
Didier: My dad had died early in life. My mother, yes. I was an only child.
Didier: She lived in Portland, yes. And--
Franklin: What did she—oh, sorry.
Didier: That’s okay.
Franklin: What did she think about—
Didier: Oh. [LAUGHTER]
Franklin: --your going out to homestead in—I’m sure she thought it was—
Didier: Not too much.
Franklin: --kind of the middle of nowhere.
Didier: Not too much.
Franklin: Did she ever come out?
Didier: Oh, yes. Oh, yeah. She came up. She always came up whenever I had a baby and helped me. In some of the rougher years, so she knew what was actually happening. Of course, you know how you feel about your kids. You don’t like to see them—think that they’re being—what should I say—deprived. [LAUGHTER] And Don’s folks were very helpful. They—his dad came up and helped us many a time work on the house. She’d come up and do the cooking, since I was working. I’d come home to a meal, which was great. She made the best cinnamon rolls. My kids have never forgotten that.
Didier: [LAUGHTER] Yeah, she—anyway. Yeah, they—we also were in sheep. I guess I forgot to say that. We all had a—I used to do the lambing.
Franklin: Oh, wow.
Didier: Yeah, we bought a bunch of old ewes, which was not the best idea. But that’s all—his dad and Don went together and bought this bunch of old ewes. And so we lambed—I think we had lambs for—or we had sheep for—what? I don’t know, maybe five, six years. We never were much of a livestock people. My husband, when he was young, his dad went to some auction or something, came home with some milk cows, and Don got the job of milking the cows. He says, I’m never having a milk cow, and we never did. [LAUGHTER] We had a guy actually delivering milk out to the farm, come to think of it. And he left a big supply everyday with the boys I had.
Franklin: Wow, yeah, I bet.
Didier: I ended up with four boys and one daughter. My daughter’s a school teacher here in Kennewick. Has been for umpteen years. And Brett works at Battelle, my youngest. Curt and Clint and Chris—Chris is my oldest—they all are in the farming deal out there.
Franklin: And Clint’s a local politician, right?
Didier: Oh, yes. Yeah. He thinks he has to try to make a difference. But anyway, it’s a rough go. But he’s determined—stubborn. [LAUGHTER] No, I admire him for his, I guess, bravery, because it is—you do have to be brave. You take a lot of flak, I’m going to tell you, and a lot of—after he loses, which he has, takes him a while to recover. It’s a rejection, is what it is.
Franklin: Yeah. That’s understandable.
Didier: And then he takes a bit to regroup, and turns around and comes back for another go at it. And I tell him, I said, I don’t understand you, Clint. [LAUGHTER] Anyway.
Franklin: Well, great, well, thank you so much, Alice.
Didier: I probably talked your leg off.
Franklin: Nope, my legs are still here.
Didier: Well, I don’t know what else I could tell you.
Franklin: Did anyone else have any questions?
Didier: Oh, I could—I guess I should have told you, I did a lot of tractor work. I was not just a housewife. I ran almost every piece of equipment, except I never ran the stacker or—but I drove tractor. Did cultivating. Never rode a—I never ran a potato harvester, of course, but I worked on enough of them sorting potatoes. You know when you’re digging in the field? I’ve eaten a lot of dirt in my day. [LAUGHTER]
Tom Hungate: Did you ever notice a difference, was there a boys’ club that you kind of had to work through? Or was it just you were a good worker and so you were accepted as a worker on the farm? Or there weren’t enough people even to judge you as a woman out there working on a farm?
Didier: Yeah. Most all the women out there—not every woman worked in the field, but the only one that I worried about judging me was my husband. [LAUGHTER] Which, sometimes—[LAUGHTER]—I would pull something that wasn’t—I mean, do something that wasn’t too good. We had a big windstorm one night, and I thought I had to go down—we did have wheel lines at the far end of our place, down in—well, it sloped down pretty readily there. And those wheel lines, if you don’t block them, will take off in the wind and tear them all up. So the guys headed down there, and I thought I had to go down and help. Well, the first thing I did was run over the pipe that hooked into the main line. [LAUGHTER] I got told, why don’t you just go to the house? Because I hadn’t helped the situation any. [LAUGHTER]
Emma Rice: Another thing I was kind of thinking, did you have anything else to add about being kind of a working mom in the 1950s and ‘60s—
Rice: --to watch over your own [INAUDIBLE]
Didier: Well, funny you ask that question, because I have granddaughters now that are—well, I have two granddaughters that are CPAs. One just moved—she was working out here on the Project, and she just moved to South Carolina. And I look back on the days when I was working, and they never come again. You’ve lost some of the years of your kids’ life. As things happen, when they learn—when they walk, when they—first time they do something. And not being—and I remember I came home, and I was so tired. I gave my best at work, and there wasn’t a whole lot left over at the end of the day. And I know I was cranky. [LAUGHTER] And I just think sometimes—I’m sort of like my granddaughter, I kept wanting to—each time I got a promotion, it was—how do I want to put that? Not a feather in my cap, but made me feel worthy—more worthwhile, or whatever. I enjoyed working, I admit that. But I just look back on it now as—I’m going to be 85—August. I think, was it really that important? And I wish, maybe, some of our younger generation had the benefit, maybe, of my years later on the road. That’s just my—
Didier: But I have thought about that a lot. Whether I would have done it any differently at the time, because we needed the money. But sometimes we get—we forget what’s most important in our life.
Franklin: I agree.
Rice: Yeah, great.
Franklin: So what we might do now is—we’ll maybe have you kind of narrate some of these, some of the items you brought along.
Didier: Where you go across it, when I was—
Didier: But with these—this is hay we’ve laid down, and I thought it was quite—yeah, there. I thought it was sort of a neat view of how things look now, compared to that other slide you’ve got there.
Franklin: Right. Yeah, no, that’s really—
Didier: So I don’t know if you want me to bring in that picture or not, so you—